60 miles outside Philadelphia, on a bucolic country road in Berks County, PA, sits a brick building with a fenced-in yard fronting a line of trees. To look at it, you would never guess this place is the epicenter of the coming battles over judicial review of immigration detention in the United States.
Today the Supreme Court is conferencing to decide whether to grant a writ of certiorari in the case of Castro v. Department of Homeland Security.
Of the two dozen families who are the plaintiffs in Castro, about half have been released. But 14 families remain at Berks. They fled gender-based violence and threats to their lives in their home countries and sought asylum in the United States. After deeply flawed credible fear interviews and rubber-stamp affirmations by an immigration judge, they have languished in legal limbo for the past year and a half.
I started drafting this before last week. Now it feels a little like “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, …” But anyway:
About two months ago, I started working as a legal advocate with the lawyers at the Berks Family Detention Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 2014, the United States government began engaging in a policy of indefinitely detaining women and children in immigration detention. These are refugee women and children fleeing horrific gender, child and sexual violence in Central America. Berks is home to the oldest family detention center for refugee moms and their children in the nation. It is currently holding vulnerable children and mothers for over a year. This no-release policy for mothers and children fails to recognize the deleterious effects detention has on children and victims of trauma. As a result, many mothers and their young children suffer — not only extremely difficult legal cases, but also the physical, psychological, social and emotional effects of detention.
I have been working as a remote coordinator with Advocates Abroad, a network of volunteer attorneys from around the world assisting asylum seekers in the EU and Turkey. We welcome remote and on-the-ground assistance! More here: advocatesabroad.org.
On October 21, I spoke on a panel on “Migrants and Refugees” at Penn Law as part of their Journal of International Law “Societies in Transition” symposium. I talked about how Berks violates international human rights law (not to mention the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!), as well as similarities between family detention in the US and the detention conditions in Greece. Hunger strikes, language access, access to counsel issues… the list goes on.
If there’s one good thing about this election, it seems like it’s inspiring activism among an unprecedented number of people. Increased support and visibility for human rights defenders can only be a good thing. Despite everything, I’m hopeful.
Last weekend, while the official COP21 negotiations were going on north of Paris at a site called Le Bourget, leaders of indigenous nations in North and South America were in Paris calling for justice for what they say are ongoing violations of the rights of the earth itself.
The “rights of nature” were recognized in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010, designed as an alternative to the COP meetings. The declaration, which gave rise to the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, created “a manifesto for earth justice,” in the words of the president of the current tribunal, Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law. The book, published in 2003, lays out a case for granting legal rights to communities and ecosystems.
The first such tribunal was held last year in Quito, Ecuador, and its second session was almost a year later in Lima, Peru.
Among the cases heard by this tribunal, several dealt with oil exploitation in Ecuador — a country that, ironically, was the first to include the rights of nature into its 2008 constitution. One of these cases focused on Yasuní National Park.
Yasuní is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve and a biodiversity hotspot. Nowhere else are there more documented species of mammals, birds, amphibians and vascular plants. As one presenter noted, in one tree in Yasuní, one can find 94 species of ants; one hectare holds more tree species than the US and Canada together.
But Yasuní also sits above the largest oil reserve in Ecuador – 846 million barrels – presenting a threat to the people and animals living in it. More at Mongabay.com>
NBC Philadelphia used one of my shots from last night’s Ferguson solidarity protests in Philly, after the announcement of the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.
More of my photos and video from last night on are up on Demotix.
Just noticed that my photo of Colombia’s Palace of Justice was used to accompany an Austrian story about how, “after half a century of civil war, Colombia is trying to end the conflict. The year 2014 is all about two important ballots and the conclusion of a peace agreement.” More at Wiener Zeitung Online (in German) >
Regulatory agencies aren’t carefully assessing the impact of ramped up oil and gas exploration in southwest Florida, say critics
When you think of oil drilling, South Florida probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But rising oil prices are bringing increasing oil and gas exploration projects to southwest Florida, home of the Everglades, and they are already putting environment at risk.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently slapped a $25,000 fine on the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company for injecting unapproved acid into Florida’s vulnerable underground limestone formations in the middle of Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. Yet the DEP recently approved another request by Dan Hughes to drill near another protected areas — the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge — despite vehement opposition from residents and environmental groups.
Of all the new drilling proposals, the one seeking to drill the federally protected Big Cypress Natioanl Perserve has created the most furor.
Though oil drilling seems at odds with South Florida, which is known for its wildlife parks and agricultural reserves, fact is, drilling has been going on in this region ever since Humble Oil bored its first well in Collier County in 1943. The US Geological Survey’s most recent estimates show that there are about 370 million barrels of undiscovered oil in South Florida. Energy companies are eager to get that oil out of the ground.
Most of the recent drilling applications have been for exploratory wells — “wildcats” in industry parlance. First, companies drill an exploratory well to see if there’s any oil. If there isn’t, they plug it up and move on. If there is, they drill another well to inject the wastewater, called brine, into the ground.
These injection wells are the main threats to the environment. From Ohio to Texas, they have a record of leaking. The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that brine from oil and gas extraction may contain “toxic metals and radioactive substances” and “can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface.”
But Florida’s permeable geologic formations present new and unstudied risks as well. Because of the porous limestone that makes up the southwest Florida’s bedrock, it’s possible that the wastewater could migrate upward into the groundwater that millions of Floridians drink.
Given these concerns, you might assume the EPA and DEP would carefully study the environmental impacts before issuing a permits for such wells — especially in environmentally sensitive areas. But this is Florida (cue the chirping cicadas), where it seems, anything goes. . The Big Cypress National Preserve, incidentally, is already home to 11 wells. More at Earth Island Journal >
Three indigenous Honduran Tolupanes were shot and killed on August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca. Upside Down World reports that the alleged killers, Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute (no relation to Enriqueta), were hired guns for the Bellavista Mining Company, “which has been extracting antimony from the surrounding mountains without the consent of the community and with a mining concession that is in dispute. The two men also hire themselves out to illegal loggers that deforest the mountainsides.”
Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.
This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).
In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.
According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hit men of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.
Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblock on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.
The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.
Now, the families have returned to San Francisco de Locomapa with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Upside Down World:
It is a bittersweet reunion. The tears of the joyous reunion are mixed with those of grief for the three that were gunned down. MADJ has convened this convocation to both honor the martyrs and to formally have official representatives of the Republic of Honduras sign the Act of Implementation of Protective Measures that were ordered on December 19, 2013 by the [IACHR].
On December 19, 2013, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for the members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their families, in Honduras. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the members of the MADJ have been receiving a series of threats and acts of harassment and violence because of their work in defense of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples in the Locomapa sector of the department of Yoro. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law submitted by the petitioners, the Commission believes that the information presented suggests that the situation of the MADJ members and their respective families is serious and urgent, as their lives and physical integrity are said to be under threat and at grave risk. Therefore, pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and physical integrity of the 18 members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their family members; reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their families on the measures to be adopted; and inform the Commission as to the steps taken to investigate the incidents that gave rise to the adoption of this precautionary measure so that such incidents do not happen again.
As Upside Down World notes, “After decades of indifference to the plight of the Tolupanes, it was not until the IACHR intervened that anyone from the Honduran government paid any attention. This new attention is a testament to the dedication of MADJ and the members of the community that have maintained the struggle to defend their natural resources. Some 38 members of the community are protected by this act, but it is a hollow gesture if the representatives of the government don’t abide by it, which has historically been the case in Honduras.”
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy